How can we attain the kind of unity for which Jesus prayed? On what basis can we be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment that Paul desired? The following are some of the essentials for the unity revealed by the Spirit:
1. We must stand on God’s platform. Paul outlined the seven planks in this platform in Eph. 4:4-6.
(1) There is one body. That body is the church (Eph. 1:22, 23 f; Col. 1:18). It is not a denomination or a union of man-made religions.
(2) There is one Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives life and direction through God’s word.
(3) There is one hope. The desire and expectation produced by the gospel is eternal life (Tit. 1:2). (4) There is one Lord. Jesus is both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). He is the head of the church. (5) There is one faith. That is the faith for which Christians are to earnestly contend (Jude 3). It is the revealed faith.
(6) There is one baptism. That baptism is in water (Acts 8:36-38; 10:47), is a burial (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12), is in the name of the Lord (Acts 19:5; 10:48), and is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16).
(7) There is one God. He is described in contrast to idols in Acts 17:24-29.
2. We must walk by the same rule. The word of God must be the standard for our faith and practice. Amos asked, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Amos was in agreement with God and walking with God. The people of Jeroboam’s kingdom were out of step with God. The New Testament is the revelation of God’s will for us today. Do people really want unity in Christ? “Let them all agree to walk by the same rule, the New Testament.
3. We must reject all that the Bible does not authorize. To become perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, we must accept as doctrine, precisely and only what is either actually asserted or necessarily implied in the Bible; to speak the same things by speaking what the Bible speaks, and to speak them in the language of the Bible; and to practice the same things by doing simply the will of Christ.
4. We must differentiate between faith and opinion. Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). Nothing should be urged as a matter of faith unless it is backed by divine testimony. Many times brethren form a personal judgment about something, and that opinion is preached as if law and gospel. We ought to avoid preaching human opinions, and we must never elevate them to the high level of divine revelation. Just because every church of Christ does a thing does not make it approved of God. What makes anything approved of God is that is contained in the scripture (1 Cor 4:6).
5. We must have the proper attitude. We may preach loudly about the importance of walking in the old paths, and we may guard against unscriptural practices with the sharp perception of a good sentinel, and we may stress one Lord, one faith, one baptism, only to fail to keep the unity of the Spirit. Paul mentioned lowliness and meekness, longsuffering, and forbearance in love (Eph. 4:2). Some gospel preachers have never learned to show patience. There are brethren who seem to have a divisive spirit. At the slightest disagreement or provocation, they are ready to draw away disciples after them. Humility is a missing ingredient in a lot of men. The desire to rule, or to have one’s own way, even if it means splitting the church, has crippled the good cause in many localities.
6. We must endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit. The unity into which the Spirit leads is based on truth, not error. A million people can be united in the practice of error, but that unity does not transform their error into truth. It is the unity of the Spirit that is to be preserved in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).
Some people have the idea that if we preach the truth, unity will result automatically. Paul knew that more is involved. He wrote of “endeavoring” to keep the unity of the Spirit. We must make careful and painstaking effort. This necessitates crushing unholy and selfish ambitions. It includes keeping down strife, sedition, and heresy. It involves the application of Phil. 2:3.
Most of us deplore division in the church. We plead for unity based on the Bible, but in practice a lot of us insist on unity based on our personal whims. Although we dare not compromise principles of right for any purpose, we must be willing to compromise in the realm of human judgment. Many congregations that have been ripped apart with bitterness, and turmoil could have remained united if certain people had swallowed their pride, shown willingness to admit wrong, extended forgiveness, learned to keep their mouths shut, tended to their own affairs, shown brotherly love, exercised patience, and talked about staying together instead of “starting a new work” (a pretense for leaving). Bottom line, if we truly want unity, we as Christians must work diligently to achieve it!